Budget Plan Angst
House Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnell have repeatedly called for a return to “regular order” and passage of all 12 individual spending bills for FY 2017. The likelihood of that happening in large part fell apart when House Republicans squabbled over whether to honor the two-year budget deal (P.L.114-74) worked out late last year that raised discretionary caps by $80 billion over two years and suspended the debt limit until March 17, 2017. The cap increase − $50 billion in 2016 and $30 billion in 2017 − was split evenly between defense and nondefense accounts and translated into a total discretionary budget of $1.07 trillion for FY 2017 instead of $1.04 trillion, as originally mandated by the BCA.
The House Budget Committee, chaired by Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) reported a budget resolution (H. Con. Res. 125) to the House March 23 that would honor last year’s budget deal and promise Members an opportunity to vote on a separate package of $30 million in spending cuts over two years. It was met with tepid support. Republican defense hawks suggested adding a provision requiring all spending cuts to be made to the nondefense side of the budget. Other House conservatives indicated that they would support it if there were matching reductions in mandatory spending that were enacted before the FY 2017 discretionary spending took effect. Neither plan provided a way forward, and there was no incentive to keep trying as the clock kept ticking: under a 1974 budget law, the House is allowed to consider appropriations bills on the floor even without a budget after May 15.
On the other side of the capitol, Senate Budget Chairman Michael B. Enzi (R-WY) took advantage of a provision in the October budget deal that allowed him to forego adoption of a formal FY 2017 budget. On April 18, he released the spending top lines (known as 302(b) allocations) under last year’s budget agreement and gave Senate appropriators the go-ahead to craft spending bills that reflect the higher budget caps. (No such provision is available to the House.)
Judiciary Funding Bill Makes Progress.
The federal judiciary’s funding is included in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, which also funds the Department of the Treasury, the Office of the President, the District of Columbia, and independent agencies. In an unusual move, the judiciary was not asked to testify before either the House or Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Financial Services and General Government to explain its appropriation request.
While the financial services bill ignited funding controversies over numerous programs, congressional appropriators were in agreement over the need for a fully funded judiciary and expressed appreciation for the sincere and successful efforts undertaken by the courts to constrain growth and contain costs.
The House-passed Financial Services and General Government FY 2017 appropriations bill includes $6.955 billion in discretionary funding for the federal courts, and the Senate bill, unanimously approved by the full Appropriations Committee, includes $6.986 billion in discretionary funding for the courts, a three percent increase over current funding. Both bills also would extend 10 temporary district court judgeships for the year.
Unfortunately, this funding victory is jeopardized by the breakdown of the appropriations process, which may result in a lengthy continuing resolution. If, however, Congress is able to pass an omnibus bill or a series of “minibus” bills before it adjourns the courts likely will receive at a minimum the House-proposed funding increase in FY 2017.